Ethan of the Hills


The name of E. A. Crawford is deeply chiselled upon the rocks of this gigantic Mount built by nature (Mount Washington); and the lady who shared in life his joys and sorrows has, in her " White Mountain History," reared a testimonial to his memory. Will not my humble tribute of a stone, laid in silence upon his grave, be accepted by all who pleasantly cherish the remembrance of " Ethan of the Hills," or the " White Mountain Giant" ?

The subject of this sketch was born in Guildhall, Vermont, in the year 1792. When but a mere lad his parents moved to the White Mountains, and here he grew up a giant mountaineer, illustrating by his hardy habits, how daring enterprise and pure mountain climate nerve the man and stamp the hero upon mortality. Inheriting the house on the westerly end of the " Giant's Grave," with an encumbrance that made him worse than destitute of all worldly goods, he was one day shocked, when returning from hunting on the hills, to see his home burned down, and his wife and infant sheltered only by an open shed. Twelve miles one way, and six the other, to neighbors, here he was with his little family in the wilderness, destitute of every comfort, save that of hope. The sunshine of joy, unclouded by sorrow, and the warm smiles of good fortune, seem ever attendant upon the lives of some, constantly beckoning their favorites forward to the green fields of abundance, and bowers of pleasure and ease. Others, perchance born under a less favoring star, in their growth r;se up like giants, breasting manfully, step by step, the wrecking storms of adversity, and by their own heroic exertions, hew out for themselves characters deeply lined, amid the black shadows of sorrow and disappointment. Of such a mould was the spirit of Ethan A. Crawford. The inconveniences of poverty, that come like a strong man armed upon poor mortality, and sickness and the many hardships linked with every-day life in a new settlement, fell to this man's share. Yet he cheerfully performed the duties of life with an iron resolution, that stood misfortune's shocks as firmly as his own mountains stand storms and the changes of time. He was a tall, finely-proportioned man; and, though called by many the " White Mountain Giant," beneath the rough exterior of the hardy mountaineer glowed constantly, in a heroic heart, the warm fire of love and manly virtue. The artless prattle of his little children was sweet music to his spirit, and his ambitious aspirations were constantly invigorated by social comfort with his little family.


The first display of Ethan's giant strength recorded is of his carrying on his head, across the Amonoosuc river, a potash-kettle, weighing four hundred pounds.

In 1821 he caught a full-grown deer, in a wild gorge, four miles from home j and as the trap had not broken his leg, and he appeared quite gentle, he thought to lead him home. Failing in his attempt to do this, he shouldered him and trudged homeward, over hill and through tangled brushwood, feeling by the way, perchance, like Crusoe, with his lamas, how fine it would be to have a park and many deer to show his visitors. But his day-visions vanished ; for, on arriving at home, he found the deer so much injured that he died.

At another time, he caught a wUA mountain-luck in a snare; and, finding him too heavy to shoulder, he made him a halter of, withes, and succeeded in halter-leading him so completely, that, after nearly a day spent in the attempt, he arrived at home with his prize, much to the wonder of all.


In 1829 Ethan caught a good-sized bear in a trap; and thought to bind him with withes, and lead him home as he had the buck. In attempting to do this, the bear would catch with his paws at the trees; and our hero, not willing to be outwitted by a bear, managed to get him on his shoulder, and, with one hand finnly hold of his nose, carried him two miles homeward. The bear, not well satisfied with his prospects, entered into a serious engagement with his captor, and by scratching and biting succeeded in tearing off his vest and one pantaloon-leg, so that Ethan laid him down so hard upon the rocks that he died. That fall he caught ten bears in that same wild glen.

The first bear kept at the White Mountains for a show was caught by Ethan, while returning from the Mountain with two young gentlemen he had been up with as guide. Seeing a small bear cross their path, they followed him to a tree, which he climbed. Ethan climbed after, and, succeeding in getting him, tied his mouth up with a handkerchief, and backed him home. This bear he provided with a trough of water, a strap and pole; and here he was for a long time kept, as the first tame bear of the mountains. This was about the year 1829.

Ethan caught a wild-cat with a birch withe ! Once, when passing down the Notch, he was attracted to a tree by the barking of his dog,-where, up among the thick branches, he discovered a full-grown wild-cat. Having only a small hatchet with him, he cut two long birch withes, and, twisting them well together, made a slipnoose, which he run up through the thick leaves; and while the cat was watching the dog, he managed to get this noose over his head, and, with a sudden jerk, brought him to the ground. His dog instantly seized him, but was willing to beat a retreat till reinforced by his master, who with a heavy club came to the rescue. The skin of this oat, when stretched, measured over six feet.Ethan's two dose shots are worthy of note. One fall, while setting a sable line, about two miles back of the Notch, he discovered a little lake, set, like a diamond, in a rough frame-work of beetling crags. The fresh signs of moose near, and trouts seen in its shining waters, was sufficient inducement to spend a night by its shady shore. About sunset, while engaged in catching a string of trouts, his attention was suddenly arrested by a loud splashing in the still water around a rocky point, where, on looking, he saw two large brown moose pulling up lily-roots, and fighting the flies. Prepared with an extra charge, he fired; and before the first report died in echoes among the peaks, the second followed, and both moose fell dead in the lake. Ethan labored hard to drag his game ashore; but late that evening bright visions of marrow-bones and broiled trouts flitted like realities around him. That night a doleful dirge rose in that wild gorge ; but our hero slept soundly, between two warm moose-skins. He cared not for the wild wolves that scented the taint of the fresh blood in the wind. That little mountain sheet is now, from the above circumstance, known as " Ethan'* Pond."

     Ethan was always proud to speak of how he carried a lady two miles dawn the mountain on his shoulders. It was no uncommon affair for him to shoulder a man and lug him down the mountain; but his more delicate attempts to pack a young lady down the steep rocks, he seemed to regard as an important incident in his adventurous career. Miss E. Woodward was the name of the lady who received from the Mountain Giant such marked attention. By a wrong step she became very lame, and placing, as well as he could, a cushion of coats upon his right shoulder, the lady became well seated, and he thus brought her down to where they left their horses.

By Adino N. Brackett's Journal, published in Moore's His. Col., vol. 1st, page 97, it appears that Adino N. Brackett, John W. Weeks, Gen. John Willson, Charles J. Stuart, Esq., Noyes S. Dennison, and Samuel A. Pearson, Esq., from Lancaster, N. H., with Philip Carrigan and E. A. Crawford, went up, July 31st, 1820, to name the different summits. Gen. John Willson, of Boston, is now, 1855, the only survivor of that party. "They made* Ethan their pilot, and loaded him with provisions and blankets, like a pack-horse; and then, as they began to ascend, they piled on top of his load their coats." This party had a fine time"; and, after giving the names of our sages to the different peaks, according to their altitude, they drank health to these hoary cliffs, in honor to the illustrious men whose names they were, from this date, to bear; then, curled down among the rocks, without fire, on the highest crag, they doubtless spent the first night mortals ever spent on that elevated place. In the morning, after seeing the sun rise out of the ocean far, far below them, they descended westerly from the apex about a mile, and came to a beautiful sheet of water (Lake of the Clouds), near a ridge of rocks, which, when they left, they named "Blue Pond." It doubtless looked blue to them; for something they carried in bottles so weakened the limbs of one of the party that Ethan was, from this place, burdened with a back-load of mortality, weighing two hundred pounds, down to the Amonoosuc valley. Thus we find Ethan most emphatically the " Giant of the Mountains." He never hesitated to encounter any danger that appeared in his path, whether from wild beasts, flood, or mountain tempest.

The First Bridle-path on the White Mountains was made in 1819. As there had got to be ten or twelve visitors a year, to see these mountains, at this date, Ethan thought, to accommodate his company, he would cut a path as far as the region of scrub vegetation extended. It had been very difficult to go without a road, clambering over trees, up steep ledges, through streams, and over the hedgy scrub-growth; and accordingly, when the fact of a path being made was published, the fame of this region spread like wild-fire. This path was started at the head of the notch near Gibbs' House, and, extending to the top of Mount Clinton, reached from thence to the top of Mount Washington, nearly where Gibbs' Path now is. Soon after the completion of this path, the necessity of a cabin, where visitors could stop through the night, was perceivable by Ethan; and accordingly he built a stone cabin, near the top of Mount Washington, by a spring of water that lives there, and spread in it an abundance of soft moss for beds, that those who wished to stop here through the night, to see the sun set and rise, might be accommodated. This rude home for the traveller was soon improved, and furnished with a small stove, an iron chest, and a long roll of sheet-lead; — the chest was to secure from the bears and hedge-hogs the camping-blankets; and, according to tradition, around that old chest many who hungered have enjoyed a hearty repast. That roll of lead was for visitors to engrave their names on with a sharp iron. Alas! thai tale-telling sheet has been moulded into bullets, and thai, old chest was buried by an avalanche. How all things pass away!

In 1821 the first ladies visited Mount Washington. This party, of which these ladies numbered three, had Ethan for its guide, and, proceeding to the stone cabin, waited there through a storm for several days, that they might be the first females to accomplish the unrecorded feat of ascending Mount Washington. This heroic little party was the Misses Austin, of Portsmouth, N. H., being accompanied by their brother and an Esq. Stuart, of Lancaster. Everything was managed as much for their comfort as possible; the little stone cabin was provided with an outside addition, in which the gentlemen staid, that their companions might be more retired and comfortable. This party came near being what the sailor might call " weather-bound." They were obliged to send back for more provisions; and at last the severe mountainstorm passed away, and that for which they had ambitiously endured so much exposure was granted them. They went to the top, had a fine prospect, and, after an absence of five days, returned from the mountains, in fine spirits, highly gratified with their adventure. This heroic act should confer an honor upon the names of this pioneer party, as everything was managed with so much prudence and modesty that there was not left even a shadow for reproach, save by those who felt themselves outdone; so says record.

SOURCE:  1862 edition 3:  Historical relics of the White Mountains: Also, a concise White Mountain guide By John H. Spaulding -    pg 26-32

    In the summer of 1840 the first horse that ever climbed the rocks of Mount Washington was rode up by old Abel Crawford. The old man was then seventy-five years old, and though his head was whitened by the snows of many winters, his blood was stirred, on that occasion, by the ambitious animation of more youthful days. There he sat proudly upon his noble horse, with uncovered head, and the wind played lightly with his venerable white locks. Truly that was a picture worthy an artist's skill. Holding that horse by the rein, there stood his son Ethan, as guide to his old father. The son and the parent! — worthy representatives of the mighty monument, to the remembrance of which, their pioneer exertions have added fadeless fame. From that day a new era dawned on these mountains. Forget not the veteran Abel, and Ethan " the White Mountain Giant."

The White Mountain Guides should all be remembered. In our lengthy notice of Ethan, the White Mountain Giant, we do not mean to eclipse the worthy deeds of other noble mountain spirits, who have followed his old path, and even made new ones for their own feet. This mountain region is truly haunted, as it were, by peculiar influences, that call to its attractions as dauntless men for guides as our New England mountain-land can boast. Ethan A. Crawford came here when this was a wilderness-land, unknown to fame. The fashionable world knew nothing of its peculiarities. He spent much time, even the energies of his life, exploring the wild gorges and dangerous peaks of the mountains, and became a mighty hunter. He was, in fact, the bold pioneer who, with his old father, opened the way whereby the " Crystal Hills " became known to the world. " Honor to whom honor is due!" Then let us not be unmindful of Ethan, who grappled with nature in her wildness, and made gigantic difficulties surmountable; and let us remember the names "Tom Crawford," "Hartford," "Hall," "Cogswell;" "Dana,and Lucius M. Rosebrook," " Leavitt," "Hayes," and others, who have followed piloting for a series of years on these mountains. These are all men in whose hands the tourist was comparatively safe; and, though the most of the above names are with the past, others are on the stage, who have an ambitious desire to outdo, even, in skill and management, those whose footsteps they follow. We will not praise the living guides of the White Mountains; their actions speak monuments of honor to their own names. Have confidence in their integrity; and may they never betray their trust!

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